President's weekly report — March 21, 2014

March 21, 2014 | By ROB RIVETT

High-Speed Rail Bonds and the California Fantasy Train

We filed this answer to the State’s petition for alternative writ of mandate in High Speed Rail Authority v. Superior Court.  When the voters approved California’s high-speed rail project a few years ago, they approved spending $9.5 billion in bonds for a project with very specific parameters.  In particular the train was to travel at speeds of 200 miles per hour or more, and make the trip from L.A. to San Francisco in under two hours and 40 minutes.  But when the costs of that project ballooned to close to $100 billion, Governor Brown scaled the project back to a mere $68 billion, in part by relying on local transit systems.  But there is serious doubt that the project as now envisioned can meet the voter-imposed requirements.  When the state sought approval for its bonds, some folks pushed back, including the First Free Will Baptist Church in Bakersfield.   The Church’s immediate concern is that the train is slated to run by its property.  PLF has now stepped in to represent the Church.  There are two issues now before the Court of Appeal.  First, should courts simply rubber-stamp the bond authority’s naked assertion that the bonds will be used to finance the voter-approved project?  Or should the court actually look behind the curtain to see if there is any evidence that the voters are getting what they paid for?  Second, has the state in fact shown that the project as now imagineered by the Governor is the same one approved by the voters?

Federalism — Equal Sovereignty Doctrine & March Madness

In honor of March Madness, PLF filed this amicus brief on behalf of itself and the Cato Institute in Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.  The federal government shouldn’t favor some states over other states for reasons no better than political cronyism.  Here, New Jersey is seeking to establish a regulatory structure that would allow legal sports betting in the state — something that federal law allows in only in the State of Nevada.  Now it’s not that we have a beef with Nevada, but it should be pretty clear to students of American history that all states are joined in the union on equal terms and that pure political favoritism is not a good reason to give some states special treatment over others.  In other words, if Congress is going to legalize regulated sports betting in Nevada it must do so in other states desiring that option as well.  For an excellent discussion of the case and the equal sovereignty doctrine, see our blog.

Environment — Petition Watch

The Supreme Court is scheduled to decide today whether it will grant a petition for writ of certiorari in Mingo Logan v. Environmental Protection Agency.  That’s the case where EPA retroactively vetoed a coal mine permit, years after it had been granted and after the coal company expended substantial sums in reliance on its permit.  We filed this brief in favor of the petition.  We may know by Monday whether the petition is granted.

Coastal Project – California Coastal Commission

We obtained a bad published decision in SDS Family Trust v. California Coastal Commission in the Court of Appeal.  Our challenge is to an easement condition imposed on a Family who wanted to remodel an existing home and barn.  We say it violates Nollan/Dolan.  The trial court didn’t reach the merits of our claim, but instead concluded that the Family had waived its right to challenge the easement long ago (in 2004) when a County planner (mistakenly) included the condition in a different permit and the Family failed to appeal that decision within 10 days.  Unfortunately, the decision is based on an utterly confused understanding of the facts, as alleged by the Commission.